Soviet Union
UnionFederation of USSR Rugby Union Players
Team kit
Change kit
First international
 Soviet Union 31–10 Griviţa Roşie (ro)
(4 August 1974)
Largest win
 Soviet Union 72–0 Sweden 
(30 October 1976)
Largest defeat
 England 53–0 Soviet Union 
(7 September 1991)

The USSR national rugby union team (Russian: сборная СССР по регби, Georgian: საბჭოთა კავშირის მორაგბეთა ეროვნული ნაკრები) represented the Soviet Union in rugby union until the early 1990s.


See also: Rugby union in the Soviet Union, Rugby union in Georgia, and Rugby union in Russia

Although tournaments such as the Soviet Cup and the Soviet Championship existed, rugby never became a major sport in the USSR. Rugby union was the more popular of the two rugby codes, however, as rugby league only began being played following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Rugby football was played in the Russian Empire as early as 1884; however, the first official match, played in Moscow, did not take place until 1923. Because of the Russian Revolution, some Soviet/Russian players emigrated and/or ended up playing for foreign sides, a notable example being Prince Alexander Obolensky (Александр Сергеевич Оболенский) who played for Oxford and England in the 1930s – he was the scorer of 2 tries on his England debut in their win over New Zealand in January 1936. His noble birth precluded him from playing in his home country and his family had fled the country when he was only a year old.

In 1935 the Moscow Championship was initiated, followed by the first Soviet Championship which took place in 1936.

In 1949, rugby union was forbidden throughout the USSR during the "fight against cosmopolitanism". Competition was resumed in 1957, and the Soviet Championship recommenced in 1966. In 1975, the Soviet national team played their first ever match.[1]

During the 1970s and 1980s, the Soviet team began to improve their performances, often coming second to France, or third to Romania in the FIRA tournament. The team were never given the opportunity to play a tier 1 nation where test caps were awarded.

The organisers of the 1987 Rugby World Cup had intended to invite the USSR as one of the participants. However, before the invitation could be made, the USSR refused to take part on political grounds, allegedly due to the continued IRB membership of South Africa. The first tournament was by invitation rather than qualification, and despite successes against teams such as Italy and Romania in the years leading up to the inaugural Cup, the USSR did not enter.

The Soviet team did not attempt to qualify for the 1991 Rugby World Cup finals. They played their last game against Spain in the FIRA tournament in November 1991, shortly before the country's own dissolution. The USSR's successor was briefly the Commonwealth of Independent States, after which the former constituent states formed their own national teams.

The FIRA Trophy 1974–1997

Year(s) Winner Second place Third place
1973–74  France  Romania  Spain
1974–75  Romania  France  Italy
1975–76  France  Italy  Romania
1976–77  Romania  France  Italy
1977–78  France  Romania  Spain
1978–79  France  Romania Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Soviet Union
1979–80  France  Romania  Italy
1980–81  Romania  France Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Soviet Union
1981–82  France  Italy  Romania
1982–83  Romania  Italy Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Soviet Union
1983–84  France  Romania  Italy
1984–85  France Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Soviet Union  Italy
1985–87  France Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Soviet Union  Romania
1987–89  France Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Soviet Union  Romania
1989–90  France Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Soviet Union  Romania
1990–92  France  Italy  Romania
1992–94  France  Italy  Romania
1995–97  Italy  France  Romania

USSR tour to New Zealand

In 1991, in preparation for the Rugby World Cup New Zealand hosted short tours by Western Samoa, Fiji, Romania and the USSR. There were no matches of Test status played by New Zealand against the tourists, but a side designated "New Zealand XV" met both the Romanians and Soviets, and both opponents awarded caps for the XV game. The tours gave the New Zealand selectors a chance to gauge the form of players likely to be on the periphery of selection for the World Cup.

The USSR tour party comprised 26 players and was led from the front-row by Sergei Molchenov. They won four and lost four matches:

Date Opposition Score Result Location
May 25 Nelson Bays 25–24 Won Nelson
May 29 Marlborough 23–16 Won Blenheim
June 1 Canterbury 15–73 Loss Christchurch
June 5 Mid Canterbury 33–10 Won Ashburton
June 8 Otago 11–37 Loss Dunedin
June 12 Taranaki 16–39 Loss New Plymouth
June 16 New Zealand XV 6-56 Loss Hamilton
June 18 King Country 22-15 Win Te Kuiti

The teams in the "test" match:

June 16, 1991 at Rugby Park, Hamilton
New Zealand XV 56 (8G 2T) – USSR 6 (1PG 1DG)

New Zealand XV: E J Crossan; E Clarke, W K Maunsell, T D L Tagaloa; A F McCormick, J P Preston; J A Hewett; O M Brown, N J Hewitt, M R Allen, R M Brooke, D W Mayhew, M P Carter, W T Shelford (captain), W R Gordon

Tries: McCormick (2), Crossan (2), Maunsell (2), Tagaloa (2), Shelford, Carter
Conversions: Crossan (8)

Soviet Union: V Voropaev; A Zakarliuk, I Kuperman, A Kovalenko, I Mironov; S Boldakov, A Bychkov; E Kabylkin, S Molchenov (captain), R Bikbov, S Sergeev, E Ganiakhin, V Negodin, A Ogryzkov, A Tikhonov
Replacements used: Y Nikolaev, V Zykov

Penalty Goal: Boldakov
Dropped Goal: Boldakov

Referee: Mr D J Bishop

Soviet tour to England

In September, the USSR were guests of the RFU and played the Combined London Old Boys at Croxley Green (OMTs' ground) before meeting an England XV in a World Cup warm-up game on September 7, 1991 at Twickenham where they lost 53–0 to a full-strength non-cap XV side led by Will Carling.

Final games as CIS

Their last representative matches as a united Soviet side were during the 1991–92 season. A team labelled "CIS" fulfilled their remaining FIRA Championship fixtures against Italy, Spain, Romania and France A.

Russia has competed as a separate entity at the international level since 1992.

Notable players

200 Soviet players became Masters of Sport. Two notable ones are:

Successor teams

The rugby teams of the USSR's successor states have had varying success.

Initially, the former USSR competed under the Commonwealth of Independent States banner, but this itself terminated in 1992. It had played four matches.

The most successful "successor" rugby team has been Georgia, which competed in the 2003 Rugby World Cup, 2007, 2011, 2015 and 2019. They had a respectable performance against Ireland and defeated Namibia twice in 2007 and 2015, defeated Tonga 17-10 in 2015. The Rugby World Cup, coincidentally, got going at around the point that the Soviet Union was disintegrating – no other ex-Soviet team other than Georgia had ever qualified until 2011 when Russia qualified, and the early World Cups were also smaller tournaments. The Georgia Rugby Union was founded in 1964, but did not compete as a national team during the Soviet Era.

As of 3 March 2008, however, Russia's form had improved greatly, being placed at 17th position in the world rankings, ahead of Portugal, the USA, Japan, and coming one point behind Romania.[2]

After the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, World Rugby and Rugby Europe suspended Russia from international and European continental rugby union competition. In addition, the Rugby Union of Russia was suspended from World Rugby and Rugby Europe.[3][4]


The following successor teams are in the European Nations Cup:



  1. ^ Rugby union in Russia and USSR (in Russian)
  2. ^ International Rugby Board – Russia closing in on their rivals
  3. ^ Gallan, Daniel (1 March 2022). "World Rugby joins other sports bodies by suspending Russia and Belarus". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 March 2022.
  4. ^ "Rugby Europe Statement – Russia and Belarus Suspension". Rugby Europe. Retrieved 3 March 2022.